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Man who sued TV stations for live-birth clips must pay attorneys fees

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A plaintiff who live-streamed his child’s birth must pay the attorneys fees of networks whom he later unsuccessfully sued for broadcasting brief excerpts of the video, says a federal court.

On May 16, 2016, Kali Kanongataa publicly live-streamed on Facebook a 45-minute video of his partner giving birth to their child in a hospital delivery room, according to Wednesday’s ruling by the U.S. District Court in New York in Kali Kanongataa v. American Broadcasting Cos. Inc. et al. The video of his son’s birth remains publicly available.

After very brief excepts of the video were included in news reports, Mr. Kanongataa, who had copyrighted the video, filed suit against American Broadcasting Cos. Inc., NBC Universal Media L.L.C. and COED Media Group, L.L.C., all New York-based, for copyright infringement.

In February 2017, Judge Lewis A. Kaplan dismissed the copyright infringement litigation on the grounds the uses complained of were “fair uses,” and Mr. Kanongataa did not appeal.

In his ruling Wednesday, Judge Kaplan said the networks are entitled to attorneys fees in the case. “An award of attorneys’ fees to the defendants would serve to ‘encourage parties with strong legal positions to stand on their rights’ while deterring ‘those with weak one’s from proceeding with litigation,’” said the ruling.

“Nor is any special solicitude warranted toward plaintiff on the theory that these lawsuits ‘resolved an important and close legal issue and thus meaningfully clarified copyright law.’ This, after all, was what a wag the Court once encountered would have called a ‘purple and green spotted cow’ case — a case the like of which is not particularly likely ever to be encountered again.”

Judge Kaplan refused defendants’ request, however, that the plaintiff and his attorney should be sanctioned. “To whatever extent plaintiff is able to compensate defendants financially for the costs of defending his frivolous litigation, he can be made to do so” under the copyright law, said Judge Kaplan.

“And defendants may pursue any claims of professional misconduct on the part of plaintiff’s attorney before appropriate disciplinary bodies.”

Judge Kaplan said the amount Mr. Kanongataa must pay will be determined in future proceedings.

Commenting on the case, Charles A. Michael, a partner with Steptoe & Johnson L.L.P. in New York, who was not involved in the case, said the networks’ broadcasts “was a clear example of fair use,” and the lawsuit should never have been brought. He added, “If I had done that, my wife would strangle me.”